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Security Council briefed on situation in East Timor by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping

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The "social peace" of East Timor had been threatened by the prevailing economic and social conditions in that country, Hédi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council in an open briefing this morning on the situation in East Timor.
That situation was reflected in the very large number of applicants that had responded to the recruitment efforts of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), he said. A number of efforts were under way to create employment opportunities, including 18 quick impact projects undertaken by UNTAET for the repair of local infrastructure in advance of the World Bank's much larger community empowerment project. The reconstruction process would take time, however. In view of the level of destruction in the country, and the exodus of a great number of skilled workers following the tragic events of last year, rehabilitation and reconstruction would be difficult and slow.

The handover from the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) to UNTAET's military component had been smooth, he went on. The United Nations force, however, had been tested by increased incursions of pro-autonomy militia members from West Timor. There had also been a number of cases in which weapons were found on refugees returning from West Timor, causing UNTAET to institute stricter controls. Concerning the refugee flow, more than 153,000 had returned, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had estimated the return of 50,000 more.

Following Mr. Annabi's briefing, speakers this morning welcomed the positive developments in the area, such as the smooth transition from INTERFET to UNTAET, the visit of President Wahid of Indonesia to East Timor, the establishment of the East Timor postal service, and the approval of several regulations. They agreed, however, that there remained troublesome issues, such as unemployment and rising crime, a slow disbursement of funds, and the increasing incidents of violence by militias.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that things were moving steadily and inexorably in the right direction towards independence. Today's briefing and the news of recent weeks, however, had been a reminder of some serious problems, namely, the increasing criminality in East Timor. He hoped the deployment of the rapid reaction unit would help, as well as the establishment of a police group, which should help UNTAET bring the unofficial security groups under its control. Of particular concern were the recent outbreaks of violence and the reported evidence of the involvement of Indonesian armed forces. It must be ensured that promises by the Indonesian Government not to support any residual complicity between the armed forces and militia activity in East Timor would be kept.

On a similar issue, the representative of France, noting the pledge by the Indonesian authorities to end militia and pro-integrationist activities, wondered whether they were in a position to implement those commitments in the field and strictly monitor the local activities of the militia hierarchy.

The representative of the Russian Federation also expressed concern at reports of a resurgence of the activities of the pro-integration militia, which had sought to impede the return of refugees. The speedy, effective resolution of the refugee problem would largely determine the successful handling of current tasks. The revival of the economy and the establishment of effective governance was also crucial. He urged the Council to "carefully and regularly" follow all developments.

Similarly, Council President Anwarul Karim Chowdhury (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of his country, warned that militia violence had to be controlled. Closing the camps in border areas was a good place to start. The deployment of civilian police had been a very positive sign, but the impediments to a more rapid deployment needed to be removed.

Statements were also made this morning by the representatives of the United States, Canada, Argentina, Netherlands, China, Malaysia, Jamaica, Namibia, and Mali.

The meeting began at 11:20 a.m. and adjourned at 1:03 p.m.